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Mon, Feb 21, 2005

The Aviator's Untold Story

Who Was David Grant And Why Wasn't He Portrayed In "The Aviator"?

As Leonardo DiCaprio and company bask in the glow of their success with "The Aviator," a film about a young, obsessive Howard Hughes, you won't find Jim Grant anywhere near the theater.

When Hughes' fabled Spruce Goose took to the skies for its one and only flight on November 2nd, 1947, Grant's father, David was sitting next to Hughes in the cockpit. But you won't see a David Grant in the movie. Although billed as a "true" story, "The Aviator" completely skips over the elder Grant's contribution to history and instead of the "cloud professor" -- Hughes' weather forecaster -- a fictional chap named "Professor Fitz."

David Grant, who hailed from Encino, CA, was actually the man who designed the hydraulic system aboard the Spruce Goose. Hughes could have picked just about any pilot to fly right seat in the behemoth seaplane that November day in 1947. He chose David Grant.

"Howard wasn't that crazy," said David's son, Jim, in an interview with the LA Daily News. "He wanted my dad next to him in the Spruce Goose because if something went wrong, he wanted to be talking to the guy who designed the hydraulic system, not the weatherman."

The Grant family is understandably miffed at the fact David's contributions were completely ignored by filmmaker Martin Scorsese in "The Aviator," which was nominated for 11 Academy Awards.

"It was like dad's legacy was totally negated," David's daughter, Diane Brinegar, told the Daily News a few weeks ago as she, Jim, and David's wife, Ruth, left a movie house in Encino where they'd just seen "The Aviator."

Artistic license? Fiddling with facts? Jim Grant says that's not appropriate in the case of his father, who died three years ago.

"I can understand that in a movie like 'Saving Private Ryan,' where there are hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting a war," said son Jim, "but this was one specific moment in history."

Columnist Sets The Record Straight

LA Daily News columnist Dennis McCarthy writes of his good fortune to know David and Ruth Grant. Recently, he stopped by for a visit with David's widow.

"We were married 61 wonderful, beautiful years," she told him, as she flipped through scrapbooks filled with newspaper stories and pictures about the Spruce Goose.

"Howard had brought us out from Ohio a year earlier after searching the country for the best hydraulics engineer he could find," she told McCarthy. "I was at home wallpapering our small apartment that day, pregnant with our first child, Diane. David called and said to drop everything, this was the day. It wasn't going to be another test run. Howard was taking her up, and he had asked David to sit up front in the cockpit with him. A driver picked me up a few minutes later. My hair was still in curlers. I put on a scarf, threw on my mother-in-law's coat, and went to the harbor."

That's how she's pictured, along with David and the rest of the crew, in a photograph taken the day of the historic flight.

In the movie, DiCaprio's Hughes struggles mightily to get the mammoth seaplane out of the water and into the air. But that didn't really happen, according to Ruth.

"(Hughes) was surprised because it took off before he made it take off," David once told an interviewer. The reason: Big flaps. Hughes put in a mere 15 degrees of flaps instead of the normal 45 degrees. The flaps were so big (because, of course, the plane was so big), that the Goose needed no coaxing to get into the air.

"I've flown in a lot of airplanes and I'd never been in a smoother landing than that one. After we landed, Howard said, 'Well, wasn't that a good landing.' I was so excited, I don't remember what else he said. He was excited too. We were chattering back and forth."

McCarthey writes that, after the Goose's one flight, the plane was (of course) retired, Hughes went on to more aviation adventures and increasingly eccentric behavior.

Grant moved on to work on the Apollo and Surveyor programs at NASA. But, for the sake of "film continuity," the name David Grant isn't one you'll likely see in history's headlines.

FMI: www.sprucegoose.org

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